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Written by Susan ShorSusan Shor

The office beckons – or at least your boss does

8 min read
The office beckons – or at least your boss does
Artwork by:Sasha Knokova
The tug of war over returning to the office is in full swing. The boss has reasons for wanting you back, but the evidence is still out on whether it’s a good idea or not.

Had you been working in your PJs and have had to suddenly up your wardrobe game at least part of the time beginning with the new year? You’re not alone. 

Employers are eager for workers to repopulate the office, but employees are more reluctant to make the change. Amazon tech workers expressed their anger over CEO Andy Jassey’s requirement that they get dressed and come to the office at least three days a week. A Slack group of remote workers now has 16,000 members and 5,000 employees have signed a petition against the policy.

One reason for the resistance is location. Many workers gave in to the temptation of the digital nomad lifestyle and are happily working at the beach. Another may be closer to home, but still distance related. Many workers chose to move out of densely populated urban areas and into nearby suburbs or more residential areas of their cities, according to Pew, which means a longer commute now that the boss may want them back at their desk, but more space and maybe even a nice office when they are home. 

Remote work pluses

The worker voices may be loud, but the vast majority of companies already have or say they will require employees to make an office appearance at least some of the time. Here’s some good news: Employers may want you back in the office, but they are increasingly fine with a hybrid schedule and as of yet, they have done little to force the issue. (Aside from the well-publicized announcement by Elon Musk that employees should return or resign.) 

That may be in their best interest as 76 percent of respondents to executive search firm Curran, Daly + Associates Return to Office survey said they want their next job to be fully remote. Add that fact to the Robert Half finding that 50 percent of workers would rather find another job than go back to the office full time and it’s clear: employers will have to accommodate remote or flexible schedules in the future to retain staff.

Happy employees are longer-lasting employees as well and working from home at least part of the time hikes happiness rates by 20 percent, TrackingHappiness found. (Who doesn’t like throwing the wash in the dryer in-between meetings instead of spending Sunday doing four loads?) 

Expert tip

If you just don’t want to go to the office

Here is a list of companies that will remain fully remote or have a fully-remote option:

  • Adobe
  • Capital One
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Ford
  • Google
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Salesforce

Taking the guesswork out of expectations also makes for a happier workplace. Coming out of the pandemic, most businesses have codified remote work so that employees know exactly how flexible their schedules can be. In fact, 89 percent surveyed by KPMG either established or are planning to establish a consistent policy. Unsurprisingly, the telecommunications and technology industry led the charge on this front. 

Why do bosses want you back?

Most of the reasoning behind requiring employees to return to the office revolves around a set of hard-wired beliefs, and perhaps a generational gap, that culture, communication, and management are all easier in person. C-suite occupiers and high-level managers see the workplace much differently from employees – and they have a much different life.

Slack senior vice president Brian Elliot told CNBC that he sees it this way: “Executives have a better setup at work. They probably have an office with a door. They probably don’t have the same childcare issues as many employees.”

Managers and executives at medium and large companies want employees back in the office, Fivverr found. A full third believe that employees work harder when a manager is watching and a quarter think employees take shorter breaks when they are being timed. 

Small business owners also want their workers back on site and are willing to fire them if they don’t return. Of 1,500 small business owners questioned by Digital, a whopping 39 percent said they wanted all employees back on-site and would consider firing them if they did not comply. 

Forty-five percent of them also said they saw a drop in employee productivity. Conversely, studies have shown that remote work increases productivity to varying degrees. In this case, perception may trump statistics, although measuring productivity is a complicated task. 

But is that true? A Fortune analysis of productivity data argues that the largest drop in productivity among workers occurred after the return to the office. A rise in productivity began in the second quarter of 2020 – the beginning of the lockdown – and continued through the end of 2021 when employers began mandating a return to the office.

Money also plays a role. Many businesses negotiate with municipalities for hefty tax reductions when they maintain offices there. The theory goes that workers will spend money and pay taxes where they work. But that doesn’t hold true if the majority of employers work from home most of the time. 

The reality of the call to return

Employers made a big post-summer push to get people back to the office. Did it work? To some degree, yes. Office occupancy rose in early September, but some employees are showing up for only part of the day or using other tactics such as scheduling off-site meetings for in-office days.

Statistical insight

Top 3 industries by days spent working remotely*

Sector Number of days
Information and technology  2.68
Finance and insurance 2.23
Professional and business services 2.02

*Source: Korn Ferry Insights

The truth is that the working world has shifted and employers and employees are still negotiating how the landscape will look in the future. If your employer wants you back more often than you want to show up, try negotiating, just as you would for a raise or other benefits.

Key takeaways 

  • There’s something of a disconnect between bosses, who want their offices populated, and employees who are happily working from home.
  • Productivity is an issue – some C-suite inhabitants and business owners believe employers do more when someone is watching.
  • The good news is that you probably won’t have to go back full-time, or at all, depending on where you work.
  • Try negotiating your in-office time, just as you would any other benefit.
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